Spring Preview – The Offense Part I

For the past two seasons, Washington has had a problem. It's an issue that has not been a familiar one around these parts in a long, long time. Offensive Coordinator Keith Gilbertson put me on his $hit list for saying this, and it pains me to say it, but I'll say it again: the Husky running game has been anemic. Well, it all begins up front, and there is significant reason for optimism as spring unfolds.

The two main things that stand out on the positive side of the ledger are the number of returning starters, and the new offensive line coach.

Normally a coaching changeover is not a good thing, but in this case, Washington needed to do something. There just wasn't good production from the offensive line and change was needed.

Enter Dan Cozzetto, formerly of Dennis Erickson's Oregon State staff. Cozzetto brings with him 23 years of experience, including two years on the offensive line at California and eight years at Arizona State under Bruce Snyder. Rick Neuheisel upgraded his staff significantly in hiring Cozzetto. Washington had grown the reputation of being soft in the trenches over the past two years, and Cozzetto was brought in to specifically address that. He'll do so beginning in April.

Cozzetto will have five players returning from last season that have all started and played significant minutes. Anchoring the group will be junior WT Khalif Barnes. Barnes has started every game at Washington since his redshirt freshman season, and outside of a very difficult time against Terrell Suggs at ASU, he's been very consistent. This should be the breakout year for Barnes, who is the fastest, quickest, and strongest offensive linemen.

The other tackle spot will likely go to the pride of Buckley, senior Nick Newton. Newt has been playing with nicks and dings for the better part of two seasons, but is expected to be 100% this spring. He can also play guard, which makes him extremely versatile. If he's healthy, Newton is one of the better drive blockers on the team.

Inside, Washington will look to junior Aaron Butler to man one starting guard position. Butler, a Tacoma native, has a bit of nasty to him and his enthusiasm us very infectious on the field. He played in a great deal of pain last year, hobbling on one knee at times. But Butler has great pad level and has unbelievable balance for a man of his size.

If Newton remains at tackle, the other guard spot should be a real dawg fight. The first shot will go to sophomore Robin Meadow. Meadow is physically as imposing as they come, with a frame that has very little body fat and carries about 300 pounds. It's scary to come face to face with a guy that is 6-6 and only has about a 34-inch waist, but can bench press a house. That is Meadow, and in his first start of his career at USC, he graded out pretty well despite a few mistakes.

Battling Meadow will be junior Dan Dicks, from Bellevue, Washington. Dicks has played some center as well, so he'll be in the eight-man rotation for sure, even if he doesn't earn a starting job. Dicks had a knee injury last year that forced him to miss the Oregon game, but it was nothing too serious. He is an extremely smart player whom the coaches have trusted in game situations. He and Meadow should really wage a nice competition this spring.

Mission Viejo Senior Todd Bachert returns on the interior line. Bachert has started every game the past two seasons, two years ago at tackle and last year at center. A shoulder injury forced him to play with just one shoulder the past two seasons but the latest surgery, performed just after the sun bowl, was reported to be a success. Bachert could be the starting center, but he is the most flexible player in the trenches, as he could play guard or tackle. He understands every position on the line and makes all of the calls.

In addition to those six players, watch for redshirt freshman Clayton Walker to challenge for playing time. Walker has done a fine job of jumping out at coaches for his scout team work, and he has that Frank Garcia type of toughness. Walker is an interior guy and would most likely play guard or center.

Fellow redshirt freshman Robin Kezirian also has made significant progress, but may be a little further away in terms of making the eight-man mix.

One player that has made consistent gains as the backup at center is sophomore Brad Vanneman from Issaquah. Big Vanny looked a little soft during his redshirt freshman season, but last year he bulked up a bit and carries much better weight. He will probably see the field on a regular basis in 2003.

Another guy with potential is sophomore Willie Kava from Hawaii. Kava is very strong but injuries have slowed his progress. He is another guard prospect.

The one wild card in this mix is senior Francisco Tipoti. Washington waged a much publicized recruiting war for Cisco with USC and won, but it hasn't paid any dividends on the field yet. Tipoti struggled with conditioning early and wasn't close to getting into the mix last year. This is his final season to find the playing field, and he could really help out, as Washington is a little thin on tackles. All of the solid depth is on the interior, particularly with Nathan Rhodes' back condition sidelining him for 2003 at a minimum.

The mystery man last year was Ryan Brooks from Richland. After a stellar spring in 2002, he looked as if he was going to challenge Andre Reeves for the starting job last fall. However, Brooks didn't show up for summer conditioning and fell way behind everyone when the season started. Reeves has since been run out of the program.

The likely starting rotation going into spring will be Barnes and Newton at the tackles, Butler and Meadow at the guards, and Bachert (if his shoulder allows) at center. If needed, Meadow can move outside. Look for this to happen if Dicks and Walker prove to be more solid inside than the other depth at tackle. The goal is to get your best eight players onto the field and into the rotation, and moving Meadow outside might be the answer. Don't forget that Bachert has also played tackle, Dicks has also played center, and Newton has played guard. There are a lot of possibilities in calculating the 8-9 man mix. Brad Vanneman would likely round out that rotation.
next up – the receivers

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